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Crossing the digital divide: cost-effective broadband wireless access for rural and remote areas

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2 Author(s)
Zhang, M. ; Montana State Univ., Bozeman, MT, USA ; Wolff, R.S.

The use of wireless, DSL, and cable for broadband access has become increasingly prevalent in metropolitan areas. While these technologies are being successfully utilized in terms of both service quality and economics in densely populated areas, there are still vast geographic regions where broadband services are either prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable at any price. The article examines several alternatives for using 2.4 GHz 802.11b (WiFi) technology to provide fixed broadband access in rural areas consisting of towns, smaller remote communities, clusters of subscribers separated by large intercluster distances, as well as widely scattered users. Our approach is to model a network based on realistic demographics, equipment and operations costs, service revenues, and customer demand and usage, and calculate the lifecycle economics in terms of capital investment and profitability. We consider the cost benefits of several emerging technologies and architectures, including high gain antennas, dynamically steerable beamforming antennas, and multihop routing. Our results show that cost-effective affordable high-speed wireless Internet access can be provided in rural and remote areas using nontraditional and innovative approaches, bridging the so-called digital divide.

Published in:

Communications Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:42 ,  Issue: 2 )